The Beijing Consensus is Neither: China as a Non-Ideological Challenge to International Norms

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Abstract:

This paper analyses the impact of a rising China on the international system, especially in terms of its effect on liberal democracy and human rights. It finds that, largely because of its unfamiliar non-ideological nature, the threat posed by China has sometimes been exaggerated and often misunderstood. The "Beijing Consensus" does not represent an ideologically coherent alternative to dominant international norms, and China makes no serious effort to promote the Chinese model as a template for other countries to follow. Domestically, the Chinese party-state may work to undermine democracy and fail to respect human rights. Internationally, however, China uses its soft power to pursue its interests, neither working actively for, or against, human rights and democracy. Because Beijing acts without regard for democracy and human rights, seeing its policy through the lens of these norms provides an unintelligible picture. The impact of China's growing influence is largely ambiguous, as China offers aid and support to democrats and despots alike and does not condition such assistance on a state's human rights record. An examination of data on Chinese and US overseas aid show that both go to approximately the same mix of free and unfree regimes. Further analysis shows that Chinese aid does not appear to have a significant impact on the state of political and civil freedoms in recipient countries. In conclusion, China's impact on international norms of liberal democracy and human rights is shown to be marginal precisely because China makes no effort to affect these norms.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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